Dispatches

The Sound of Hockey

Patty Osborne

A young man from Moncton who had never played ice hockey or gone to an NHL game used to watch Hockey Night in Canada with his father and his seven brothers and sisters every Saturday night. Everyone in Moncton rooted for the Montreal Canadiens in those days, and the young man remembers that the organist played “Three Blind Mice” whenever the referee made a bad call.

When he turned fifteen, he stopped watching hockey on Saturday nights and began riding around town on his bicycle, smoking cigarettes in the schoolyard, and drinking beer and watching music videos in a friend’s basement. They would order the beer from a cab company and have it delivered to a nearby apartment building, where they would go and wait outside with the money. A few years later he formed a rock band with three friends and they practised on Saturday nights. When they turned nineteen, they began playing in bars around town. The young man wrote songs for the band and when the band broke up he moved to Victoria, where he learned to write music on a computer. Then he moved to Valencia, a neighbourhood on the outskirts of Los Angeles, to attend a school from which many famous Hollywood directors had graduated. (In the movie Edward Scissorhands, this school played the haunted mansion on a hill above a pastel-coloured suburb.)

After his first year in Valencia, the young man returned to Victoria for the summer and lived in an apartment with his girlfriend and her sister and the sister’s boyfriend, who was named after a renowned Apache leader even though he, the boyfriend, was a white man. (The girlfriend was named after a bird and her sister was named after an ancient Chinese spice; the young man from Moncton was named after a saint.) The boyfriend had a game of Nintendo hockey and two hockey jerseys, one for the Montreal Canadiens and one for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and most evenings they put on the jerseys and punched the buttons on their controllers and called out their own play-by-play just like the announcers on TV.

A year later the young man’s girlfriend joined him in L.A. and they rented an apartment in North Hollywood, a neighbourhood that had just been given the official name of “NoHo.” The young man’s desk and computer took up half of the living room, and he began to earn a living by copying the pencilled scores of several more established composers into his computer using a program named after a Finnish composer who had lived in the country and loved nature. When he had time he used the same program to write his own music, some of which he performed in a dank concrete room called “The Smell,” where on weekends punk bands entertained the dancing crowd and on Thursday nights a group of young composers and their friends gathered to listen to “experimental music”—music that often consisted of long silences broken by much-anticipated musical notes.

On his birthday the young man’s parents sent him a DVD of the famous eight-game Russia–Canada hockey series, and every few weeks he and his girlfriend would sit in bed (they had no TV and no couch) and watch a game on the laptop computer. It took them four months to watch the whole series, which had been played in 1972 when the young man was three years old and his girlfriend was not yet born.

In the spring the young man was changing planes in Montreal on his way to Moncton when he saw Yvan Cournoyer, one of his childhood hockey heroes, ahead of him in line. On the plane he sat across the aisle from Cournoyer and was tempted to speak to him, but he didn’t say anything in case Cournoyer turned out not to be the shy, unassuming guy he had seemed to be during the interview on the Russia–Canada hockey DVD. It was enough to observe the great man eat a bag of pretzels with his big hands, drink a glass of tomato juice, and then sit back with his head straight up and his arms crossed over his chest and drift into dignified slumber.

A year later the young man and his girlfriend moved to a neighbourhood in Vancouver where people watch television in bars and restaurants, and after a few weeks searching for a place where no one was allowed to change the channel in the middle of the game, he started watching Hockey Night in Canada in a restaurant that was famous for its waitresses’ breasts. When I saw him last week he’d just been to his first live hockey game in the big stadium downtown, which was full of screaming fans and loud music. He said the best part of the game was the split second of silence that fell over the crowd as everyone held their breath and waited to see whether a shot would make it into the net.

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